Two Simple Lessons

Last month, I celebrated 35 years working for South Carolina State Parks! It seems like just yesterday I was a Kings Mountain ranger, off to make a difference and training to become a steward of our state’s great treasures. Over the past 35years, I have met thousands of people that have made a difference in my life. What a journey! So much has changed during that time: recreational trends, our uniforms and the color of my hair. Regardless of the color of the uniform (or my hair) the connection to people and the resource has always been center to our mission of stewardship and service. 

Over the years, I have noticed many changes in recreational trends: hiking is at an all-time high, as is kayaking and other water sports. Today, crowds line up to get into the same parks whose parking lots were once sparse. My, how times have changed. What is beyond the parking lot has not changed, as parks are still home to great adventures, beautiful natural resources and the opportunity for a lifetime of memories. Something else hasn’t changed- the people in parks. The people who visit their state parks and those who take care of them are both still very special people.  I guess the point in looking back is not just to reminisce and be thankful, but also to look forward to new challenges, opportunities and remember to make the most of the journey. 

It seems like it was just last week I was thinking, “I can’t wait for this summer. Hunting Island will finally be open and there is always so much going on in parks: Independence Day celebrations, paddles, swimming and the eclipse! I can’t wait!” Well summer is here, Hunting Island is indeed back open and parks and visitors alike are indeed counting down the days until their Independence Day celebrations in state parks. Now in the heat and humidity of summer I have caught myself thinking that I cannot wait until fall! I love fall with its cooler temperatures, green leaves that turn brilliant yellows and reds, and hawks that make their way across the Dismal Forest at Caesars Head. As I write this, I’m sitting on the back porch watching a summer thunderstorm develop. Summertime down south, there’s nothing like it.  My mind goes back to great memories of being caught in the rain at a park, as a kid, with my kids, with coworkers who reluctantly agreed to hike to one more waterfall just to see the water fall from the high cliffs of the Mountain Bridge as well as the skies above us. 

Parks are filled with memories just waiting to be made.  Don’t miss it or wish for the next season. The fact is, this is the best season to visit your parks, to make memories and enjoy the journey. I do love the fall in state parks, but not so much that I’ll miss the summer! There’s lots to see and do: paddle trips, camping, hikes and a lifetime of memories to be had! I can’t wait

What have I learned in my 35 years with parks? Countless things. For me, there is no life like park ranger life. I have great memories for sure, but too often looking back keeps you from enjoying the present. I try to focus more on the season I am in, but if I had to do it all over again I would do these two simple things:
  • Take more pictures. It helps to capture and preserve memories. I do wish I had taken more pictures. Fair warning, I love to take pictures now, so you’ll often see me with a camera in hand or trying to take a selfie to capture the moment. There is no excuse in today’s world. Unlike 35 years ago, everyone carries a camera with them today- some even use it as a phone!
  • Enjoy the ride! It is indeed about the journey. Hike more, paddle farther, and laugh louder. Experience more sunrises and sunsets. Yep, enjoy the ride. 
It’s summer time! There are lots of sunrises and sunsets to experience this summer. I’m hoping I get caught in the rain, get to laugh out loud, get to talk to a Hunting Island camper, get to see the smiles on people’s faces when the ocean side campground at Edisto Beach reopens. Shorts and flip flops, sunscreen and bug spray. It’s summertime in state parks… enjoy!

See you in the parks!

Phil